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Earthquake 2011

for the 80 million displaced


The rumble that shook the house

could have been a truck but this home

is set back 800 feet from the road.

No trucks or train nearby. A tornado

sounds like a train, but no wind,

no green sky. The small kitchen

chandelier swung and the birdbath

rocked itself empty of water.


I put down knife and the homemade

roll I was slicing for a sandwich, ran

down the steps to the back yard

and drain field, open space away

from the canopy of trees, far from

the chimney that might crumble. Many

minutes while my heart pounded, rumbled.

A tremor in my hands, across the land.


Back inside, photos and paintings

had crashed from the hallway walls.

Broken glass across my parents’ faces.

Cookie sheets and baking pans slid

from the open pantry onto the floor.

In the breakfront, three broken Royal

Dalton plates that were my mother’s.

Small losses compared to homes wrecked.


I still shook after everything stopped

shaking. Aftershocks for more

than two years. This is how it is—

how the unexpected lands in your life

without asking for it, causing it. Your

plans for a comfortable life smashed.

No consequence of a bad decision 

or impulsive behavior. No drugs


or drink involved. Weather has its

way. A president refuses the peaceful

transfer of power. Another starts a war.

People are fleeing the only home they’ve

known. Events roll over, shake the land,

rattle what you thought was firm and solid,

including the land under your feet. Your

nearest neighbor is dead in the street.



Photos of people that could be family

without labels or dates. Phone numbers

in my father’s wallet from thirty years ago.

When my father killed himself, he didn’t


take my mother with him. He wanted

to get away from her, from his daughters,

grandsons, had no one he could talk to.

He didn’t leave a note, didn’t have his say,


didn’t tell my sister where he’d hidden

his gold watch and diamond rings. Did he?

She found them. My mother never kept

a diary. My grandmothers couldn’t read


more than street signs, letters for subway

lines in New York. They never wrote letters,

didn’t answer questions never asked.

They took all the family secrets with them.


Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), and her work has appeared in Potomac Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The MacGuffin, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Slant, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.

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